Cayin N8ii: The Next Episode

My audiophile friends know that I am not big on DAPs. I have been averse to the idea of carrying another big device around. So they were intrigued when I decided to test the new Cayin N8ii. I also had no idea what to expect from what is essentially my first DAP experience. 

But how could I resist? The N8ii is Cayin's third experiment with the Korg NuTube technology. The previous one, the excellent C9, remains one of my favorite amps. 

My doubts about practical use only got worse when I unboxed the unit. The N8ii is quite big. Just a touch smaller than the C9. Add the leather case and it's a quite expensive​ thick device. But it still is relatively portable and can fit in a pocket if you really want to. ​​​

​Then I plugged the FiR Audio XE6 into it. And all I could think was: this sounds incredible!

​But before that, let's talk about the experience. The N8ii UI is excellent. It's fast, the touch screen is responsive and the settings are very intuitive. A well designed unit. The build quality is as exquisite as you would expect from a top Cayin product. The N8ii can be used as a streaming or offline player and as a source feeding other amps, among other things. I won't go into all the functionalities here, you can find these in any good review.  

​Back to sound. The first thing that struck me with N8ii was how spacious and airy everything sounds with it. The stage is big and all frequencies are effortlessly rich. Sub-bass reaches deep, treble is well extended and everything in between sounds sweet. Nothing feels forced, colored or pushed forward. And this makes for a very immersive experience. 

The embedded dual ROHM DAC contributes to this. This DAC is simply spectacular. I plugged it into various amps including Cayin's own C9, Shanling M30 (amp2), Cavalli LG and the Vioelectric V550. Some aspects of the N8ii DAC remind me of the Chord Hugo2 (that I miss dearly). The low end is not as aggressive but stage size and separation are on similar levels. 

The big advantage of the embedded amp are the 4 timbre choices. You can choose between solid state or tub(ey) in class A or AB. The amp has enough juice to power any iem you can think of and a lot of HPs.

The N8ii did a great job with the Hifiman HE1000 SE and the Kennerton Rognir. This said, it won't get the most out of these cans. You get better performance using the N8ii as a DAC plugged into one of the amps mentioned above. This isn't so much the case with iems. The N8ii is plenty on its own with any iem. 

But this is not supposed to be a desktop DAC/AMP. The P in DAP might as well stand for "Portable".  

And by the time I had played enough with the N8ii, I started thinking: this is actually a small device for what it does! A fully fledged streaming player with full Android experience that can serve as a very capable desktop DAC and that makes any iem and most HPs sound unbelievable. On the go!

One more interesting thing happened: I found myself reaching out for the N8ii whenever I was going out. Quite an interesting development. 

I still can't say I would carry the N8ii in my pocket. It's still too big and cumbersome for that. It is also prohibitively expensive and I wouldn't want to scratch any part of it!

We are living in a difficult world and the N8ii remains a luxury. If you are more budget conscious, the Chord Mojo2 is there. You won't be missing out on much in terms of sound. Diminishing returns are a thing in audio. And if you are looking for something more affordable, the new xDuoo Link2 Bal offers outstanding value for the price. But if you have the budget and want the best sound performance there is, the N8ii should be firmly on your radar. 

In conclusion, this has been an interesting experiment. It certainly helped shift my perspective on DAPs. At least partially. The N8ii is certainly the best overall DAP I have tried so far and my lasting impression is: the sound is so good I feel I want to have it with me whenever possible. Thickness be damned!

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